Monday, November 29, 2010

Go Fish

As with most nearly-5 year old boys, The Boy (tm) has a very difficult time losing.  Anything.  If we 'race' from the living room to the kitchen, a total of about 9 feet, and I win, he melts onto the floor in a pool of sorrow, wanting to start over with a head start of 7 of those feet.  This insatiable need for superiority has gone on for a while and is wearing old.

So began my conscious effort yesterday evening to teach this precious child what it means to be a Good Sport.  I decided to use Go Fish for this. 

Being a genius, he caught on to the rules and intricacies of the card game very quickly, and enjoyed making matches.  He even mastered fanning out his cards so he could see all the numbers and letters.  I employed the Jokers to be sure there was an uneven number of matches, meaning there would never be a tie - someone would win and someone would lose. 

The stage was set.

Being an adult, I was able to manipulate the first game to make sure he got more matches than me, simply by not asking him "do you have a 9" when I was pretty sure he had a 9, and so on.  He won as planned, 14 pairs to 13.  His victory lap around the living room proclaiming his triumph was actually very sweet, if not a little over the top.  I put on my best, most sincere "I'm so happy for you that you won because I'm a Good Sport song and dance" and asked if we should play again.  Oh, of course, Dad! 

I made sure he acknowledged that he saw that I was happy for him when he won.  He saw that I was happy that he was happy - sharing in his joyous, thundering celebration.  A Good Sport. 

And now according to my plan, Game Two would be my win, so he can practice being a Good Sport too.  After all, I just did a splendid job of modeling how to lose gracefully.  

He beat me 15 pairs to 12.  Wait, what? 

Once again, he bellowed his victory to the rafters, somersaulting off the couch into a Mary Katherine Gallagher Superstar pose.  His delight was exquisite.   After double-checking my count of the piles of pairs I conceded the victory once again and mentioned softly that I was delighted that he won with my best forced smile.  I quickly reshuffled and handed him 7 more starter cards. 

He fanned his cards for game three.  He had 3 pairs right at the start, and his 7th card was the Joker which was a silly looking horse (a whole 'nother level of excitement escaped his lungs).  Game three was eventually his, 16-11.  (insert wild arm flapping, hooting, yelling, and sprinting from room to room here, as well as my tight-lipped half smile and furrowed brow).  Doesn't he know this is supposed to be a life lesson?   Sheesh.

Game four would be mine.  I shuffled again, dealt again.  I had 2 matches at the start to his zero.  This was my game.  He saw that the game started in my favor, and doubled his focus.  I smiled a wicked smile, dug my toes into the rug and leaned forward, carefully asking him for strategic cards.  He seemed to do the same.  Go fish, go fish, go fish - the only answer I ever got from him.  He won game four 21 pairs to 6. 

I didn't even know that was possible.

What was wrong with this stupid deck of cards???  Has this little s* --  I mean, my beloved gifted son -- learned how to cheat at Go Fish in 4 games?  He couldn't possibly not have the cards I was asking for - but I was watching, he never lied about not having a card.  Impossible, yet here it was.  I was muttering under my breath and snapping the cards together in my reshuffle while he did fist pumps in the air and bounced like a rabbit off the couch cushions.

"Here's your cards.  We're playing again.  Sit.  Go."   I have to teach this kid how to lose gracefully.  Game 5, 6, 7 and 8 were all his.  In fact, it was never closer than 15-12.  I tried dealing myself first, tried taking the first turn, and I'm shamefully admitting that I even tried peaking at his cards that he was very careful to conceal, but I never beat him.  He went to bed last night without ever losing Go Fish.  It was undoubtedly one of the most glorious nights of his life while I, on the other hand, was sulking.  I had lost 8 rounds of a simple game to a 4 year old, and only one of them on purpose.  Talk about a knee to the specials.  All I wanted to do was teach him how to lose properly. 

Only after he was tucked into bed did I chuckle at the irony.   He wasn't a sore loser, an immature child that needed to be taught how to play well with others.  He was me, 1:5 scale. 

Parenting tip:  Stack the deck before the game starts, memorizing the card order, if you want to beat your gifted kid at Go Fish.  Seriously.  And don't be afraid to trip him from behind once in a while in a foot race.  It will help him develop a Good Sport attitude. 

Parenting tip after getting "the look" from The Boy's mom:  Don't worry so much about winning and losing, enjoy the game either way.  As an adult.  The kids are always watching, and they learn life by living it unstaged - so live it better and they will too.  And get a head start when you need a win. 

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